Several members of the IC student chapter attended an interest session that functioned as a miniature Sacred Harp Convention, led by Dr. Jeffrey D. Francom from SUNY Potsdam and Dr. Thomas Malone from Vassel Lane Upper School in Cambridge. When we entered the room, we were asked to sit in a square formation in our respective voice parts, as is traditional with shape-note singing. Present in the room were people with various levels of exposure to shape-note singing. Dr. Malone had brought with him a few experienced shape-note singers to help with the session.
Dr. Malone explained that a musical gathering in the shape-note tradition is never considered a performance or a rehearsal, but is simply referred to as a "singing." After we practiced reading both major and minor scales using the traditional fa-so-la solfege system, we had our own little singing! Throughout the session, Dr. Malone invited participants to volunteer to lead the group in shape-note songs of their choosing. He explained that the main difference between shape-note conducting and the conducting methods we might be more familiar with is the placement of the ictus of the beat. Generally, the ictus is placed at the bottom of the gesture, but in the shape-note singing tradition, the entirety of the stroke is the beat, and the ictus is at the top. We learned how to show 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 patterns in the shape-note style, and everyone had a chance to practice these gestures as we sang. We had a blast singing together and learning more about the history and traditions of shape-note culture!
-Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA Treasurer
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